Monday, June 25, 2012 14 comments

From Nanometers to Gigaparsecs

Nanotechnology is hot these days. This summer, I've been immersed in this fascinating area of science doing a research internship in Minneapolis. In nanotechnology, smaller is (almost) always better. My project is to fabricate a device containing nanochannels for DNA experiments. By definition, a nanochannel has two dimensions that are on the order of 100 nanometers.

How small is that?

Well, you could fit about a million nanochannels inside a single human hair!

This is a close-up of a strand of human hair. It doesn't really look like hair, but it is.
Nanotechnology is the science of small. Cosmology, on the other hand, is the science of big. Cosmologists investigate solar systems, galaxies, and even the entire universe and its origins. The observable diameter of the universe is about 28 gigaparsecs.

 Each gigaparsec contains a billion parsecs. I always thought a parsec was something George Lucas made up for Star Wars, but it's actually a real distance. Each parsec contains 31 trillion kilometers. Each kilometer contains a million millimeters. And each millimeter contains a million nanometers.

An artist's rendition of the universe. Because, of course, nobody can actually photograph the entire universe.
If you told me that you could fathom the difference in size between a nanochannel and the universe, I would call you a liar! Yet science spans this vast difference, crossing many orders of magnitude from the miniscule to the mammoth.

Can anything else span this difference? Or...anyone else? How about Christ?

Ephesians 3:18 tells us what the dimensions of Christ are. But Paul couldn't quite come up with the right numbers. All he came up with was "width, length, depth, and height." That's because Christ is literally immeasurable. Even the seemingly infinite universe can be made finite with units like gigaparsecs. You can't do that with Christ!

But what about Christ being small?

Fewer people consider this side of Christ. I had a tough time finding a verse reference saying that Christ could fit inside a nanochannel, but the thought of Christ being small still pervades the Bible.

In Matthew 15:25-28, a Gentile woman refers to the Lord as bread crumbs. He doesn't respond negatively, but instead commends her, saying, "Great is your faith." Bread crumbs are not measured in nanometers, but among foods, they are about as small and lowly as you can get.

In First Kings 19:11-12, a strong wind, an earthquake, and a fire pass by Elijah, but God didn't exist in any of those things. Instead, he existed in a still small voice.

Finally, in Philippians 2:5-8, we see that Jesus Christ, the infinite God, chose to humble Himself to the lowest of humanity by taking the form of a servant and dying the death of a cross.

Praise our Lord who is so big and yet so small!